Psychological Self-Help

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1407
Paradoxical Intention
Paradoxical methods
A paradox is a self-contradictory or absurd-sounding statement (or
one that seems contrary to popular opinion) that may nevertheless be
true. For instance, the harder you try to get rid of some thought or
behavior, the stronger it seems to become. Worry and demand that
something happen and it never does. Examples: Blushing and
sweating increase when you become embarrassed by your red, wet
skin; obsessive thoughts increase when you try to suppress them
(Neath, 1987); fears get worse if you desperately avoid the scary
situation; stuttering increases when you become self-conscious about
the speech problem; you make more mistakes when you worry about
making them; the harder you try to go to sleep or to have an orgasm,
the more difficult it is; anxiously wait for someone to call you and it
seems like forever. It is as though a rebellious, devilish spirit causes
the opposite of what you want. 
Yet, when you do the opposite, i.e. try to increase the unwanted
behavior, sometimes the problem goes away. Just as trying too hard
worsens some problems, trying to increase some problems
occasionally reduces them. Examples: trying for a time to exaggerate
the fears, obsessions, blushing, or stuttering may actually gradually
reduce these unwanted behaviors. Just as typing a mistake--"thirr"--
over and over will help you type "their." Likewise, stopping insisting on
getting some sleep or that someone call, helps the situation. 
It is called "paradoxical intention" when a person strives to do or
wishes for the thing he/she fears or dislikes (see confronting the fear
in chapter 12). Thus, a person afraid of germs would expose himself
repeatedly to dirt and infected persons. A person with a fear of the
dark would walk in a different place every night. A person afraid of
being unable to sleep tries to stay awake. A compulsive house cleaner
would be told to learn to enjoy dust and messes, maybe even add
some dirt here and there. A sexually non-responsive person is told to
give maximum pleasure to his/her sexual partner and to carefully
avoid having a climax him/herself. 
It is also called "symptom prescription" when a therapist suggests
that the client increase the unwanted action or feeling. Note that this
is different than paradoxical intention in which you act out repeatedly
what you are overly afraid of doing, such as come home after dark. In
symptom prescription you intentionally increase the fear or the
compulsion. Thus, a therapist might tell a fearful client to increase the
intensity or frequency of his/her fear, to feel even more terrified (see
chapter 5). The repetitive hand washer may be asked to wash his
hands twice as often. In a similar way, a family therapy team may
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